History of Hizen Dojo

by Jeff Humm, July 2003

Jeff at three years old

Over the past few months I have been asked about the name and origin of the club. I have heard rumours about connections with other dojo and teachers, so I think I should set the record straight.

The club began with my brother, before I started kendo. We saw a kendo demo at a summer fair, my brother and I were both impressed by what we saw. Peter went off and found a dojo to practice at; I was still at school and unable to start at that time. Peter studied under Mr. Lean Bean at Hagakure Dojo. He became Mr. Bean’s first shodan – this was around 1972. At this time it was common practice for a shodan to go off and start a club. Being a member of Hagakure, Peter had read the book of the same name and in this he found an old map. The place name of where the book was written was Hizen prefecture, so he thought that this would be a good name. Thus the dojo got its name and the club started around 1973 in South East London. I joined the dojo in 1974 and spent the next few years under my brother’s wing.

Summer matsuri – Jeff at 15 years old, holding newspaper, 1976

During this time, Peter was given a sword by the father of one of our father’s judo students, after giving a demo of kendo. Peter did not know at this time how the sword would link the story of my visit to Japan to the beginnings of the club’s history. A few years passed and I was now visiting dojo to better my level of practice. I was asked if I would like to go to Japan and be the first of a number of British kendoka to go. As I was at a lose end, I said that I would l like to go. Over the next few months, the plans for the trip where drawn up and I found out that I was going to Saga prefecture, and later in conversation I was told that this is the new name for the Hizen area.

1979, Jeff with blue do – well it was the 70s

I phoned my brother, but before I could tell him my news, he had started his, which was that he had asked someone read the name on the sword that he was given some years ago, and it was made by a swordsmith called Hirosada and forged in Hizen prefecture! “What fate!” he said, “The club’s name being the same as our dojo!” I replied, “I can beat that – I’m going to spend the next year there.” Total quiet at both ends of the phone.

THE sword

For some time, Peter had been saying that he wanted the sword to be returned to Japan (it was very special sword and I don’t think this is the right place to tell the whole story, so you will need to get me drunk first and it needs to be late at night for full effect) so this was a good chance for it to return home.

Jeff at 20 years old, with sword after it had been cleaned

The earlier part of the following year I was off to Japan, where I spent the next 14 months practising kendo three times a day, six days a week. The sword was given to the local museum and it turned out to be priceless. The act of returning such a precious sword to Japan opened many doors for me while I was there and gave me some contacts that still remain very strong.

Peter and Jeff Humm, Greenwich 1984

Just before coming back to London, Peter said that he would open up a new dojo so I had a place to practise when I returned. He found a church hall in Greenwich, South London, and started to teach kendo again, after having stopped for some time.

1986/7 – spot Martyn Lawrence and Alex Burch

I returned in the spring of 1982 full of ideas and bursting with kendo. The next year we spent teaching together, then Peter stopped and went in search of something else. I carried on in Greenwich for another six years. During this time, Alex Burch and Martyn Lawrence started.

Towards the end of 1989, one of my students who was a lecturer at UCL said that he could get us the use of one of the halls.

Where's Scotty? Anthony Scott starts kendo

I saw this as a great chance to move into the centre of London. We spent the next ten years at UCL where the club grew and become stronger.

In the Autumn of 1999, we found ourselves in a position with the UCL student union that meant we could no longer practice there. So at this point, I closed the class and moved to the present venue in Euston.

At the beginning of the new millennium, we found ourselves in a new hall only ten minutes away from our old venue: The Somers Town Community Centre. This venue gave us a space three times larger than we had before, and very soon we where filling it each night.

As the club became bigger, there was a need to set some goals for the growth and what we could do with the revenue the members were producing after the hall rental was paid. The dojo decided to form a charity whose aims are to supply and facilitate a venue for the practice of kendo and other like cultural arts. So in 2004, we where awarded charity status and since then we have been working hard to achieve this goal.

Towards the end of 2010/11, we thought that we had found a venue, but only planning permission stopped us. We were knocked back, and during the later part of 2011, we thought we would lose the main venue that we had been using due to the rebuilding of the school (next to the centre) having to use the hall that we had occupied for ten years. The members found it hard to make the time/day changes, but at the end of this difficult period, we have been rewarded with a brand new state-of-the-art venue with air conditioning, professional-quality spring floor, and much more.

So at the beginning of 2012 we started afresh in our new venue.

So this is the basic history of how the club started – there are many more details, but it’s very easy for events to be turned into fables, so some things are best left unsaid.

As you all know our future goals, I can say that these may happen sooner than I had hoped for, and then another page of our history can be written.